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Multilingual SEO: 4 reasons why not to rely on Google Translate alone

by Tug Agency | 16.05.2011
So you have been doing SEO for the same client for a while and they have now asked you to do SEO for the very same product but for a foreign market.  Easy you think. You have got your keywords and your next step would be to put all these lovely keywords into Google Translate and work with the results. Since German is my native tongue I can assure you that it might not always be the best idea. Read here why…

1.)     It is not always accurate.

In the same way as looking up words in a dictionary does not always help to pick the right expression. “Second hand clothes” for example are “Kleidung aus zweiter Hand” in German according to Google Translate. Speaking German I can confirm this is correct. But so is “gebrauchte Klamotten” oder “Second Hand Kleidung”. The last one being used most widely for vintage clothes, second hand clothes etc. but this is what the tool does not tell you (the other alternative suggestion was “zweiter Handkleidung” which is hilariously wrong, suggesting something like “clothes for your second hand” but more about this issue in 3.).

2.)    It is still weak on Grammar.

Yep, there is a reason why English has become THE world language (besides all the political reasons). It is an easy language. There are many exceptions to its rules but generally the rules are straightforward and easy. Only one article, nouns don’t change their endings according to position in sentence, straight forward word order in sentences. This is not the case in all languages. Especially non-Indo-European languages do work very differently in terms of word creation and sentence structure, which is where computerized translation becomes even more difficult. Usually very short keywords are fine but once they become a bit more long tail, things get a little bit more complicated. Let’s take German as an example again (unfortunately I do not speak any Non-Indo-European languages)  the tool’s translation of a simple phrase like “How to make more out of your keywords” comes up with “Wie man mehr aus ihre keywords” which is something like “How one more of you keywords” – which does not sound right, does it?

3.)    It sometimes still goes very wrong.

Again especially for the long tail key words. Although “I miss you” no longer translates as “Je Mademoiselle vous” into French (“I Miss [as in Mr., Mrs, Miss] you”) and despite many updates there are still limitations to this tool. Let’s say your client is a travel website and one of the main keywords is “Things to do in (New York)”. Although the suggested German translation “Dinge zu tun in New York” is not necessarily wrong, it is pretty useless as a keyword as people would not type it into Google when searching for what to do on their visit to New York. Or take “days out” as another example, which is a very simple, every day expression in English. The German Google Translate though “Tage aus” (days from) will definitely not get any traffic and only make people laugh.

4.) It does not reflect any cultural knowledge.

As the examples above have shown although words and phrases can be translated you still need to know which of the translations to choose. Even if you speak the target language a little bit there is still a lot that you don’t know about culture. “Fancy dress outfits for Halloween” can be “Verkleidung für Halloween” or “Kostüme für Halloween”. Both are right and both are suitable as keywords. But Google translate does not tell you that there is an even more important fancy dress event in Germany in February, the carnival, which probably gets even more search volume.

So, I guess the answer to what to do instead seems pretty obvious. The best thing would be to get a local involved at some point, even if it is just for cross checking and editing your Google Translations.